Life's Choices - A Passion for Plants

Probably half of the country has been covered with snow since late Dec. Maybe other people like to be out in the snow. I don't. I avoid the cold. But as the temperatures edged upward off the 0 setting, even I venture out to see what's in the fields and woods, with Molly, my dog. I didn't see any snow fleas, but I did post about them on Facebook and at least one gardener challenged me as to whether they were real. Another groaned that, "one more thing to worry about with my dog." Snow fleas are, indeed, real, but they could care less about the family dog. They are harmless little insects, 1/12th inch long that come out at the base of trees  and twigs when the ground is covered with snow, and play. They make their living by devouring decaying bacteria, and look, when seen by  the naked eye, to be simply, ashes.

That's our road that borders our farm, on the left. It's a good road for walks and what you can't quite see in the middle of the road in the far distance, is Molly. She runs ahead, sniffing out interesting things to explore, running on 3 legs. She's a Jack Russell and the leg switching thing is called the Jack Russell skip, a trait that isn't desirable in show dogs. People are always telling us that Molly is limping and I laugh because I know she will use first one back leg, then the other, in this odd skip. Even going up stairs she often uses only her back left, or her back right leg part of the time. But when she's off down the road, she runs almost out of sight, then stops and looks to make sure I'm still following. If I do go as far as I want, and turn around, she'll notice quickly and turn around, also. Unless, of course, she's seen a rabbit and then nothing will deter her for the next several minutes.

A reporter contacted me months ago, saying she was writing an article on professions for the March 9 edition  of Science Weekly, a publication for grade school kids. She wanted to know if I'd agree to be profiled and if I'd be willing to answer some questions. Things like my education background, how I came to have an interest in gardens, in medicinal herbs and things like that. It's meant to give kids an insight into "alternative and different" professionals. Of course I was interested in doing anything that might inspire or encourage kids in continuing their education.
But answering the questions created a dilemma, specifically because of who the readers of the publication are. "Can I be totally honest?" I asked the editor. She said I could, and asked why. I explained that I didn't have a traditional diploma, not even a degree from a college at all. "Basically I was bored by school, and hated it," I said. "I always preferred to be outdoors instead of in a classroom."

In fact, I explained, every time I got close to getting a degree at the 4 colleges I'd attended, I intentionally changed my major. Back then, I did not want a degree of any sort, I wanted an education. So I spent semesters exploring English composition and literature. I spent more semesters learning public speaking, drama, theater. I got enough industrial design, drafting, interior design, commercial design and graphic arts, to almost graduate with that. Then there was a 4 year tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force where I learned medical illustration and computer skills ar the Medical Service School.

"So where did I learn about plants?" the editor inquired. Good question, I thought. Where did I? I always knew plants, from the time I was a child. I had my first, tiny garden of my own at age 5. I got a grant when I was still a teenager to study Native American uses of plants on the Taberville Prairie near where I grew up. I took hundreds of field trips with the wildfoods author, Billy Joe Tatum, learning to process plants for their uses. I also learned from the herbalist-pharmacist, Jerry Stamps, in Eureka Springs. Basically, I explained, if introduce me to a person and I'll forget their name in seconds, but introduce me to a plant and I'll remember it vividly, many years later.

It will be interesting to see what the editor has done with the information in her article. I did stress I think it important for kids to get all of the education they can, to not give up early, to not be distracted. She asked if I had regrets about the path I've followed to get me where I am now, or if I wished I'd finished my degrees. "No, I've never regretted not having a degree. I got the education I wanted and it prepared me completely for what I've done in life." Maybe the article will take the point of view of, What not to do, look where this guy is. But I doubt it, I think she understood that what you choose in life to give purpose, satisfaction and happiness, is valid, no matter how you go about finding it.
Do I wish I had taken more plant/botany classes? Certainly, because I've had to learn some of that information on my own. But if I had, I might have spent more years than I did, building landscapes for private homes and estates, which did little to satisfy my connectivity to plants. For me, plants need to do more than look pretty next to a house. They must justify why they are there, by producing food or sustenance of some kind. My herbs do that for me, both the medicinal plants and the 300 or more native and cultivated culinary herbs I grow. Hopefully the kids reading the article will get the point that happiness should always be a part of the equation when choosing directions in life.

Oh, and the photos? She wanted some illustrations that show I have always been focused on plants, something to illustrate my passion for plants. I sent the ones you see here, which  pretty well shows I started out focused on the garden from the very beginning!

Happy gardening. If you think about it, there's always room for at least one tomato plant in your yard this spring! Grow your own, they just taste better.


Anonymous said...

snow fleas...who knew?

cute puppy;)

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Oh Jim, sweet, sweet photograph and great personal piece.

Jeff always warned our kids, "don't let college get in the way of your education."


Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower Houses and a Little Green Island

comfrey cottages said...

i loved this post jim. i think your plant journey would inspire any child:)yes happiness and a connection to all things should be part of educating children:) loving these in depth thoughts and appreciate your sharing:)

The Elegant Thrifter said...


Thanks for the visit. As a fellow Show-Me-State native, I love reading about and hearing from others in the region. I grew up in the KC area, and my mom is from Mansfield, M0., and my dad from Mulberry, Ark., and I've spent lots of time in the Ozarks.

Alas, having spent the last 22 years in New York, though, I haven't had the chance to grow a tomato plant. And you are so right, they are so different and much more delightful than those that you find in stores.

Anyway, thanks for the visit. Stan

Jim Long said...

Sharon, I love Jeff's warning to your kids to not let college get in the way of education.

Stan, love your book and who knew, you had roots in the Ozarks! Such fun to find another thrift shop collector, and one so organized, too.

Comfrey Cottages, thank you for your kind words. Educating kids about gardening has always been important to me.

tansy said...

what a great story! will you get to see a copy of the article when it's published? it would be interesting to see how it turns out!

just one tomato plant? who can stop at just one?!!! :D